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Parents as Leaders: Teaching Kids Work Ethic [Guest Post]

Posted Sep 27 2009 10:04pm

Lucy Jeanne is a full-time writer, mother of two, grandmother of six.  For the last year she has worked with a 4-generation family team onDearDaddy.com. With letters, Ruth’s memoir, photos, recipes and kid’s drawings, this website chronicles their daily life during two years of the Great Depression.

One of my favorite stories about motivating kids to work came from my grandmother in the summer of 1932. She was living in a 15’ square cabin (no utilities) with my mother (9) and my uncle (7). They were gardening (for the first time), had no running water – and the heat was unbearable. As my mother wrote many years later:

“One particularly hot day, in a fit of battle-weary desperation, Mother shocked us into action with a breathtaking offer. She promised us all of the lemonade and sugar cookies we could eat if we finished cultivating the garden that afternoon. It was the first rash open-ended promise she had ever made, and we responded by attacking the garden furiously, while she went inside to do the baking…”

(Which meant firing up the wood stove in the tiny sweltering cabin…)

“…That afternoon became an unsurpassed benchmark of personal gluttony. Some things should happen only once so their memory will stand forever…”

Whatever the age – or methods – good leadership can inspire us and bring out nearly superhuman energy reserves. Obviously this an extreme case – not the trick to use for getting kids to fill salt shakers or change toilet paper rolls. (But if you want a garage re-org done – floor to ceiling – in one weekend, or the entire house cleaned before grandpa and grandma arrive – an all-you-can-eat pizza & ice cream bash might work) I love this story because everybody won. They had a legendary day that we’re still talking – and laughing – about almost 80 years later.

I remember the first time I saw this quote about leadership by Dag Hammarskjöl:

“Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated.”

Kids learn leadership skills from our example (just listen to their conversations)… As parents, it’s our job to inspire loyalty and performance. Sometimes I hate this principle more than others, like when I was complaining about the kid’s sloppy work and my friend reminded me that it was all about me (no matter who didn’t do what) because I was in charge (“Oh……right…”). It takes more creativity up front to establish guidelines and incentives, but attempting to force compliance with power and control virtually guarantees a perennial battle that no one wins.

Of course the other extreme is parents who avoid chores and enforcement completely – by doing it all themselves. But how do their kids learn to create order out of chaos, to divide a large job into manageable chunks, to prioritize? How do they earn the self confidence that comes from turning a seemingly impossible job into personal triumph?

Ruth and John were full participating members of their household. The expectations and division of labor were always clear. They pumped buckets of water, hauled loads of wood for the cook stove and heater, shoveled all pathways in winter (to the mailbox, outhouse, dump etc.) carried pails of fresh milk every day from the neighbors dairy, helped with washing clothes (washboard, copper boiler, hand-crank wringer), ironing (with wood-heated sadirons – everything except socks & underwear). For these duties, they each earned an allowance of 10 cents per week, which they saved to buy gifts for each other, occasional treats, and personal investments for the farm like seeds (of their choice) for the garden, or baby chicks (a breed of their choice) for their first (& only) “livestock” endeavor.

When the plan for kid’s chores is set up well, with proper incentives (unlike our country’s financial system), it should be self-perpetuating, with only occasional tweaking. There is no drama…

Lucy Jeanne is a full-time writer, mother of two, grandmother of six.  For the last year she has worked with a 4-generation family team onDearDaddy.com. With letters, Ruth’s memoir, photos, recipes and kid’s drawings, this website chronicles their daily life during two years of the Great Depression.

*Above quotes from Dear Daddy: The Farm Letters, Chapter 6, Lazy Days and Country Work,www.deardaddy.com

Parents as Leaders: Teaching Kids Work Ethic [Guest Post] is a post from: Radical Parenting

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